Contemporary Eastern fairy tale on stage

“If reality didn’t exist, fairy tales wouldn’t exist either. People who don’t believe in fairy tales cannot understand reality. Fairy tales are merely the enlargement of truth. Although they momentarily take us away from reality, they actually help us understand real life.» Turkish director Mustafa Avkiran has set the boundaries between myth and reality in Thessaloniki, the city of his his grandmother, for the State Theater of Northern Greece’s latest production. The play, «Deer Curses,» by Murathan Mungan, is one of the most interesting works of contemporary Turkish literature. A modern Eastern fairy tale, it is being staged in Greece for the first time, and recently opened at Thessaloniki’s Vassiliko Theatro. Despite being, in essence, a story of the East, it also approaches the West, especially Thessaloniki, which is seen as a city of refugees. Mungan, who is perhaps the best-known Turkish writer of his generation, drew on elements of Mesopotamian mythology, of Shakespeare and ancient Greek tragedy to tell a story of the sufferings, the struggles and the adventures of a tribe’s four generations in trying to conquer land. «The play depicts the tragedy in the blood that is pointlessly spilt between peoples in revenge and in the acquisition of land. The topic is very timely and does not just refer to Turkey and the East (Arabs, Kurds and others), but also to Europe and the entire world. About 10 years ago, the state of Yugoslavia existed; its residents killed each other to create a new map. The conquering of any land has its price,» said the director. Seen from that point of view, Avkiran would call it a political play. «I am, however, against political theater, meaning 1960s and ’70s theater. That kind of theater is over. I believe in theater’s poetic expression. This work is a poetic text which Petros Markaris translated remarkably well, touching on love, passion, hatred, intolerance and attitudes toward the destruction of nature.» This is the third time that Avkiran is directing «Deer Curses» and he described his latest attempt as calmer and more mature. «For Westerners, it is closer to Brecht, but we saw it as an Islamic drama. Taking advantage of its similarities with ancient Greek tragedy, we tried to create Taziye, a kind of drama Shi’ites carry out every year, through self-flagellation.» Having so far directed 32 performances in Turkey and various European countries (including Switzerland, the Netherlands and Austria), Avkiran feels particularly moved to be among the first to be building bridges between Greek and Turkish cultures through the collaboration between Turkish state theaters and the State Theater of Northern Greece. «I had heard about Thessaloniki from my grandmother, who left with the exchange of populations. I have traveled around Europe, but Thessaloniki is no Europe, Balkans or Turkey. It is neither East nor West. It is a mixture, with its own rhythm, colors and people. That is why it thrilled me.» He got on very well with the Greek actors, although he was surprised by the theater’s rigid regulations. «They strictly adhered to their eight-hour workday and to their hourly breaks. I dealt with the problem by seeing it as a game and changing the rules. I respect working people’s rights, but let us not forget that theater is organic. You can’t stop for a short break as soon as you are getting warmed up or while explaining the fairy tale. This doesn’t even happen in Turkey, rehearsals can start in the morning and run to 8 p.m.,» he said. He admitted that it is not easy to present theater in Turkey, as there is no such culture. All theatrical activity can be found in 12 theaters situated in 12 cities, all run by one artistic director with a staff of 700 actors. Three city theaters are also sponsored by the State, while some private theaters, just in Istanbul and Ankara, fight for the scraps of state sponsorship. «State theaters are full because the tickets are cheap, but in the rest of the country, the very notion of theater does not exist.»

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